Can a Child of God Fall from Grace?
Possibility & Probability of Apostasy
Keith G. Ball - Minister, the church of Christ at Delaware, Ohio
Our subject of discussion is apostasy. It is our purpose to ascertain whether or not the scriptures teach that a child of God can live and behave in such a way as to forfeit the eternal home in heaven that awaits him. Webster defines apostasy as: "an abandoning of what one has believed in, as a faith, cause, principle, etc." Although the word apostasy is not found in most English translations of the scripture, the word apostasia is used in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and has been translated as "falling way" in the KJV. Thayer's defines the word as "a falling way, defection, apostasy" (Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 14th printing, June 1974, p. 67). Other forms and variations of the word are used and have been translated as "depart", "departing", "turn away" and "fall" or "fell away."
The question is: "Is it possible for a child of God to fall from grace and if it is, what are the probabilities of such happening to you/me?" There is a great need for this study because of the assaults upon the word of God that have taken place. During the 16th century, John Calvin, a leader of the Swiss Reformation Movement, presented his ideology in a work entitled, "Institutes of the Christian Religion." Calvin's beliefs can best be illustrated by the mnemonic tool, TULIP.
T = Total depravity or total inability, i.e., Man is totally unable to save himself.
U = Unconditional election--God's electing purpose was not conditioned by anything in man.
L = Limited atonement--Christ's atoning death was sufficient to save all men, but efficient only for the elect.
I = Irresistible Grace--the gift of faith, sovereignty given by God's Holy Spirit, cannot be resisted by the elect.
P = Perseverance of the Saints--Those who are regenerated and justified will persevere in the faith, i.e., cannot fall from grace and be lost.
Today the errors of Calvinism exist in various forms among a variety of religious groups. It is extremely important that the Lord's church maintain its purity and guard against all forms of this most dangerous doctrine.
I. A DANGEROUS ERROR EXPOSED
Calvinism's perseverance of the saints is also known as "once saved always saved" or "security of believers." It is important that the reader know that Calvin's doctrine of perseverance of the saints grew out of the erroneous view of predestination. Proponents of Calvinism believe that God foreordained and predestined some men and angels to eternal life and others to eternal damnation and that there is nothing that either can do that would affect God's choice. This error grew out of another error, original sin. In the fifth century, Augustine was very vocal about the human nature of man, stating that all men are depraved because of Adam's sin and that "no one believes unless He wills" meaning that only those elected by God are preserved and predestined for heaven and the grace of God cannot be resisted. Thus one can see that these errors are linked and related in such a way that the one grows out of the other. In regard to perseverance of the saints, Loraine Boettner, one of the leading proponents of Calvinism writes in his book entitled, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination,
"This doctrine does not stand alone but is a necessary part of the Calvinistic system of theology. The doctrines of Election and Efficacious Grace logically imply the certain salvation of those who receive these blessings. If God has chosen men absolutely and unconditionally to eternal life, and if His Spirit effectively applies to them the benefits of redemption, the inescapable conclusion is that these persons shall be saved." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1980 p. 182.)
It should make one shudder to consider that, by this false doctrine of election and predestination, God is being blamed for the condemnation of all souls that have not been "chosen" by Him. According to this doctrine they have no hope and there is nothing they can do to be saved because they are not chosen and among the elect. If man does not have the power to choose or resist then the doctrine of once saved always saved has to be true. The fact is, man has a choice. The person who "heareth and doeth" is a person who has made a choice to conform to God's way. Jesus likens him to the man who built his house upon the rock (Matthew 7:24, 25). Likewise the power of choice remains in man to decide not to do as Jesus says. Jesus likens him to the man who built his house upon the sand (Matthew 7:26, 27). Israel had to make a choice; God or idols (Joshua 24:15). The truth is that God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). God wants the vilest of sinners to be saved. The most wretched and detestable, the dregs of this world, are loved by God and he wishes that they would come into the soul-cleansing blood of Jesus. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him" (Romans 5:8, 9).
II. POSSIBILITY -- YES
It is an unchangeable truth that a child of God can live and behave in such a way that they forfeit and lose their eternal home in heaven. To deny such is to have a flagrant disregard for the scriptures for the scriptures address this subject in a most clear and simple way.
On more than one occasion Moses interceded for the stubborn people of Israel when God was ready to "blot" their name out of His book. In the Revelation letter our Lord says that for those who overcome he will not blot their name out of the book of life (Revelation 3:5). It seems rather obvious that those whose names have been blotted out are individuals who, at one point in time, have been in a harmonious relationship with God but have since fallen from His grace.
It likely was painful for the Apostle Paul to speak of a "departure" from the "faith" that would come as described in 1 Timothy 4:1. Here we have the word apospesontai, kindred to apostasia, which can be translated apostasy. The "faith" from which these individuals would depart was the "one faith" of Ephesians 4:5. These individuals would abandon truth, Christ and His church!
Likewise, the Hebrews writer addressed those who had "tasted the heavenly gift" (Hebrews 6:4). They had become Christians and had enjoyed the "peace that passeth understanding" but then they would "fall away" (Hebrews 6:6). Vincent says the word "tasted" is to "have consciously partaken of" (Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1887, Vol. IV, p. 445). The advocates of Calvinism say of such individuals who fall away that "they were not really Christians to start with." This is absurd because the scriptures clearly identify these individuals as "once enlightened," i.e., Christians (Hebrews 6:4).
James describes that it is possible for "brethren" to "err from the truth" (James 5:19, 20). Shortly after the gospel came to Samaria, a man by the name of Simon believed and was baptized (Acts 8:13). A short time later, when Paul and John came to Samaria, Simon coveted a gift that only the apostles had. Peter told him to "repent" because his heart was not right in God's sight and his soul was in jeopardy (Acts 8:21, 22). It is apparent from this account that Peter perceived that had Simon not repented and had he died in such a state, this man who had been saved would have been lost. Simon had a heart problem much like the Hebrews writer describes in Hebrews 3:12, "Take heed brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the Living God." Notice that they were called "brethren" indicating that they were faithful Christians as he was writing. Furthermore, he tells them that, because of an evil heart, they could depart from God.
Can a Christian slip into apostasy and fall from God's grace? We can answer, according to the scriptures, with an unequivocal, yes!
III. PROBABILITY -- YOU DECIDE
If you have become a Christian, have been enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift, the most important thing you can do for your soul is to guard against apostasy. Could this not be part of what Paul is speaking about when we are told to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12)? One of the most arrogant and foolish things a Christian can say or think is, "I will never leave the Lord." Had Peter not been so arrogant and had he realized that it was possible, he would have taken the steps to guard against his departure. However, such steps were not taken and he proceeded to deny our Lord not once but three times (Matthew 26:69-75). We do know that the Lord does not desire any to be lost (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). Unfortunately, the numbers of those who will be saved will be significantly smaller when compared to the number of those who will be lost. Jesus describes it as "few" verses "many" (Matthew 7:13, 14).
One way that the Christian guards against apostasy is to do as Paul did and "buffet" (ASV) or "discipline" (NKJV) the body and bring it into subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27). In other words, the Christian exercises restraint and self control by not allowing the temptation of the flesh to overcome him. One guards against apostasy by a continuing and abiding respect for the authority of the scriptures. Indeed the scriptures are all sufficient and the Christian needs look nowhere else for guidance and authority (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
Let us guard against apostasy by realizing that we can "drift away" from the word of God. "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away from them." (Hebrews 2:1 ASV). Marvin Vincent, in his Word Studies presents this thought in regard to the word "drift," "Lapse from truth and goodness is more the result of inattention than of design. Drifting is a mark of death: giving heed, of life. The log drifts with the tide: the ship breasts the adverse waves, because some one is giving earnest heed." (Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 393.)
It no doubt was a sobering thought for Christians in the first century to ponder the words of the Apostle Paul in regard to apostasy (1 Timothy 4:1). The same could be said of the elders at Ephesus when Paul told them that some of them would come to speak perverse things and draw away some of the disciples (Acts 20:29, 30). These Christians should have asked themselves "Is it I who will depart"? Today we should ask ourselves the same. Further we should ask, "Have I already departed?" It is extremely important that the Bride of Christ and each member of the body maintain purity so that the church will be without "spot or wrinkle" and that it be "holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27).
Let us also give regard to the instructions found in 2 Peter 1:10. Let us note that Peter says we must put forth an effort to make our "calling and election sure." Furthermore he says "if ye do these things ye shall never fall." The "things" to which Peter refers are the Christian virtues listed in verses 5-7. In these virtues we must continue to grow. Then, by the grace of God, we will enjoy an abundant entrance into the "everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:11).